December 07, 2011BETHLEHEM — With no power other than to effectively support or not support a settlement agreement between the Board of Selectmen and North Country Environmental Services, the Bethlehem Planning Board voted 4-2 to recommend that voters not change the town's zoning ordinance that restricts the Trudeau Road landfill to 51 acres.
The recommendation will be placed on the ballot for the Special Town Meeting, which is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17.
The agreement, which stems from an Oct. 17 mediation session the Planning Board also attended, hinges on the passage of two zoning amendments that would allow NCES to expand into "a net of approximately 5.67 acres" and exempt the 61 acres from an aquifer protection ordinance.
The board opened the floor to public concerns, but several people expressed surprise and frustration at the lack of information the members were able to provide on some of the fears that have fueled the dispute for years.
Questions still being tossed about included ongoing health concerns and what kind of an exchange occurs between the Ammonoosuc River and the aquifer that the town based its ordinance on. Other people expressed their distrust of NCES and were concerned about loopholes in the agreement and whether the deal is still subject to change after the zoning ordinance is amended.
While selectmen have said the town is still prepared to go to trial in March if voters don't approve the zoning change, resident George Manupelli questioned why the town was rushing into the agreement and denying Bethlehem its day in court — "squandering" all of the money that has been spent on protecting the ordinance.
The town has "voted 17 times against" expansion and agreement, said Manupelli, established the 51-acre limit, called District V, and built its own transfer station "at considerable cost."
Selectman Sandy Laleme explained after the meeting that the town has spent about $200,000 to develop land for its own landfill. The town decided to go that route after NCES said was going to charge for use of its Trudeau Road transfer station a number of years ago. The new agreement says NCES, which is owned by Casella Waste Systems of Rutland, Vt., will once again accept all wastes generated by residents at no charge to the town or residents.
Laleme said the Select Board hasn't yet discussed the fate of the town's landfill since the zoning amendment hasn't been approved, but if the deal goes through, it makes sense that the facility would close.
Despite being well known for opposing Casella in the past, Lavoie said he felt that the deal was the best the town was going to get.
He warned that if the agreement didn't go through and the town lost the court case — even if Bethlehem won at the superior court level it could still lose in state Supreme Court —then NCES could conceivably expand to all of the 100 acres it owns.
Currently the landfill also has to be caped at 1,473 feet— it's now at 1,470, said NCES manager Kevin Roy — but without restrictions it has potential to be much higher.
The agreement caps the landfill at 1,483 feet, but Roy said landfill will settle and NCES would be barred from refilling that airspace.
Roy has said that the landfill, as it stands now, has lifespan of about 10 years. If NCES gets all of the permits it needs to use the extra acres awarded in the agreement, the landfill could potentially get an additional 10 years of life (it all depends on rate of fill) — essentially keeping the facility open until about 2030.
Both Lavoie and board member Patrick Doughty voted to recommend the zoning change, while Teresa Tupaj Wood, Dan Webb, Jeanne Robillard and Harold Friedman voted against it.
Two informational meetings are scheduled for 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Bethlehem Elementary School, and 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Profile School.
The settlement agreement and other updates are available at www.bethlehemnh.org.